On A Scale of One to Three Douglas Lain Macro-Fiction

map On A Scale of One to Three

by Douglas Lain

Published in Issue No. 42 ~ November, 2000

Please indicate your level of agreement with the following statements on a scale of one to three where one equals a firm yes, two equals maybe, and three is a firm no.

1. “I sometimes find myself laughing at other people’s misfortunes, even though I’m not very proud of that reaction. Maybe it’s just a way of saying ‘There but for the grace of God go I.'”

One, two, or three?

Ronald Reagan was the president, Van Halen’s suicidal anthem “(Go ahead and) Jump” was at the top of the charts, and I was fourteen years old and afraid. What I feared most was a sudden burst of light – a light brighter than the sun – and a roar of radioactive wind.

I was obsessed. Over a breakfast of Cream of Wheat, or during a family argument about my grades, I would find myself freezing. I would simply stop and listen for the blast. Waiting for the heat and then the quick disintegration, I would pause.

My mother worried that I had a personality disorder.

2. “People tell me that I express myself in an odd way – that I say things that are too deep for them, or that I don’t explain what I mean.”

One, two, or three?

In the summer of 1984 my parents decided we needed a family vacation. My father would take a break from his arthritic patients, and we would leave town for a couple of weeks. They decided to do something about my personality problem, my obsession, by renting a Winnebago and setting off for the Trinity test site in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

“The blast, as you’ll see, was small. Certainly not apocalyptic in size,” my father told me.

“They’d be bigger now. It’s a matter of megatons vs. kilotons,” I said.

“They’ve got gift shops by the blast site. The radiation is long gone. You can even buy souvenirs made from the melted sand. You’ll see.”

A 165 pound man standing in the open one mile from a half-megaton nuclear explosion would absorb ten thousand rems of initial nuclear radiation, would be seared by heat amounting to 500 calories per square centimeter, and would be sent flying through the air by the blast wave at a rate of well over 100 feet per second.

3. “I don’t believe in feeling guilty about what I’ve done. There’s nothing to be gained from it. ‘Don’t look back’ – that’s my motto.”

One, two, or three?

The Winnebago was huge. A full kitchen, two tables in the center, a toilet, and even a cable television hook up, was contained inside the plastic walls of my parent’s rented road slug. We took off for Los Alamos with the air conditioning on full blast. As we sped towards the Trinity test-site at forty miles per hour the only sounds were from the air vents. I demanded complete radio silence. I was frozen, listening.

4. “I don’t like spending time alone, and I avoid it as much as possible.”

One, two, or three?

Years later, after the cold war was over, I would still be obsessed. Even without nuclear Armageddon hanging over me, I would still find ways to stop, find reasons to freeze in my tracks. I would look up at the sky and worry about flying saucers, I would think about the ozone, or I would simply stop and listen to my own heart beating.

When I was fourteen I had Reagan, I had the button, and my panic attacks made sense.

5. Emotionally I am a very calm person. I seldom have strong feelings of any kind – angry, miserable, or ecstatic.

One, two, or three.

Outside of the San Cristobal reservation our road slug took up two parking spaces at a rest stop diner. We left our diet-sodas and bags of potato chips in the trailer. We switched over to burgers and fries.

Over this lunch of fried meat and iceberg lettuce I informed my parents that the military often illegally dumped radioactive waste on Indian reservations.

“The only good Indian is a dead Indian,” my father joked. He loved to rattle me with nigger jokes and other racist quips, even as he voted against Ronald Reagan. He’d get my blood boiling and then point out that it was he, not I, who’d marched on Washington with Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The Native Americans are getting a free ride from our tax dollars. I have trouble feeling sympathetic or guilty about their supposed plight,” my mother said. She wasn’t kidding.

I looked around furtively, afraid that the locals would shower us with tomahawks and poisoned arrows.

6. “Even though I’m not sure I should be, I find myself fascinated by violence, weapons, and the martial arts. I like films and TV shows with a lot of action and violence in them.”

One, two, or three?

On the streets of Alma, New Mexico, there was an odd mix of upscale restaurants and small gas stations with rusted storage tanks.

My parents and I were exiting one of the restaurants when we caught sight of two old Hispanic women huddled together by the gutter. One was squatting over the curb and vomiting blood into a drainage grate while the other grimaced and watched.

Neither woman spoke English, but their pleas for help were obvious enough.

“Honey?” my mother asked.

“What?” my dad replied.

“Don’t you think you’d better…”

Dad shrugged and approached the two women; he gestured towards the woman whose white sweater was slowly turning pink, and leaned over to listen to her chest – to her pounding heart. Dad smiled, glanced up at the woman, and then stepped back as she began retching again.

“Hospital?” my father asked.

“Mucho penoso,” the woman replied between heaves.

“Haas-pit-tall,” my father repeated to the woman in the gray sweater whose wide eyes and nodding head indicated anything but comprehension and then gestured to the sick woman and started over.

“Donde Hospital?” my father asked.

“Muy legos,” the old woman in the gray sweater said.

The sick woman agreed, her vomiting subsiding for a moment. “Muy legos!” the sick woman said and then began to hyperventilate.

“Donde Hospital?” my father asked. He leaned over again and, careful not to brush against any blood, put his ear to the sick woman’s chest again. “Go to the Hospital,” my Dad said.

“Medico?” the woman in the gray sweater asked, and pointed at my father.

“Yes,” my father said.

“Hospital Muy legos!” the woman in the gray sweater said, emphatic now.

“Right. Take her to the hospital.”

Dad ambled back over to us.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Oh, well…she’s just having a small heart attack. If you guys want to go to a movie tonight we’ll have to hurry. Los Alamos is still two hours away, and it’s almost seven.”

The sick woman was vomiting again, gushing. Dad turned towards them and tried to wave them away.

“Hospital. Get her to the hospital,” he commanded. And then we left, getting into our rented slug, slowly backing out onto the street and then speeding forward and away.

7. “I believe that in some situations you may have to step on someone else’s toes to get where you’re going.”

Yes, no, or maybe?

The first atomic bomb was tested at 5:29:45 a.m. Mountain WarTime on July 16, 1945. The bomb tested released a 19-kiloton explosion in the desert outside of Los Alamos.

Included on our Trinity Site tour was Ground Zero – the spot where the atomic bomb was placed on a 100-foot steel tower and then turned into a mushroom cloud. A small monument marked the spot. This monument was surrounded by a chain link fence and this fence was marked by a small yellow sign which indicated that the area was radioactive.

There were also green balls of melted sand at Ground Zero, but these weren’t for sale. In fact our tour guide told us that the green glass was still hot (radioactive), and wasn’t to be touched or picked up.

So there was no gift shop, but there were Portable toilet facilities available and hot dogs and sodas were sold from vending carts in the parking lot.

My Dad brought a camera, which technically was allowed, but the camera seemed to make the soldiers nervous. The men working on the White Sands Missile Range sneered at us from behind barbed wire, and they would scream at us if Dad pointed the camera in the wrong direction. After awhile our tour guide asked Dad to put the camera way.

Still, I felt safer after walking through the blast site. I came to believe that the bomb was a part of history, and I felt that nukes, like lightning, could never strike in the same place twice.

8. “Occasionally I make up stories or distort the truth, just to see how other people will react. Sometimes the truth is too much to bear.”

Yes? No? Can you even tell the difference anymore? Can anyone?

Calculate your total score as follows:

In columns A, B and C count the number of yes answers, no answers, and maybe answers. Transfer these numbers to appropriate boxes. Multiply by two.

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Douglas Lain lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Miriam, son Benjamin, and daughter Emma. His fiction has appeared in Pif Magazine, Amazing Stories, and Winedark Sea. He also has fiction due out in Century Magazine and Strange Horizons. More information about Mr. Lain can be found at http://www.douglaslain.f2s.com.